Santa Paula Times

Harding Park Advisory Board: Inactive panel could be revived

November 26, 2010
Santa Paula News

Fencing, snack bars, monument entrance and other needs were discussed at a recent meeting to address the next phase of the Harding Park Master Plan, but perhaps the biggest issue was the status and possibly reviving the Advisory Board that oversaw the park for decades.

The November 16 meeting was held at the Community Center directed by Community Services Director Brian Yanez and staff. Members of the Recreation Commission were also on hand for the discussion.

The now defunct Junior Chamber of Commerce deeded the property to the city in 1978 with the caveat that an advisory board be formed to oversee park funding. George Harding led the effort to create a place for children to play baseball, and the property also extends to the south side of Highway 126 where it generates income through commercial/industrial leases. The income according to Yanez is about $68,000 a year; the Harding Park fund now has about $820,000 in the bank.

The Harding Park Master Plan was created in 1996, a document, said Yanez, that was “a guide with an ultimate goal at the end.” But considering how long it has been since the plan was created, an update is needed on priorities and programs.

Beverly Harding was a driving force behind the Harding Park Advisory Committee, whose main function according to the legal documents was to approve expenditures of fund assets. Although the board has not met for years - Harding and panelist Lou Wagner passed away, Joe Jauregui and Jim McCoy have moved away, leaving Len Soprano the last local member - the City Council each year continues to appoint a representative to the board.

Soprano, the former president of the Little League, said, “Basically, there’s not much of a board left... our main goal on that board was to make sure the funds were being spent properly” on recreational opportunities for area children. The board was never formally dissolved - after all, the panel is a caveat of the deed - but Soprano said the city gradually took on fund oversight.

The situation “frustrated” Beverly Harding, the “driving force” of the panel, who complained the city was not providing financial accounting to the board. Soprano said, “My position was,” if the city assumed oversight of the fund and “do okay, fine... it’s all about recreation for the kids.”

He believes the last board meeting was held about five to six years ago. A newly seated advisory board - at least one person at the November 16 meeting expressed an interest in serving - would be worthwhile only if “the city listened to them... we felt in the later days we were not listened to and not needed,” a situation Soprano said he has no “problem with” as long as the city “did the right thing.”

But Soprano, a strong advocate for a Harding Park West facility that could provide more baseball as well as possibly soccer fields, said although he questions the “relevance” of the panel, he does not rule out continuing to serve on the Harding Park Advisory Board. Especially as “I would like to make sure there’s room for every kid to play,” and with the Harding Park fund and the present low property costs it might be feasible.

“We would keep the Harding name involved, and,” noted Soprano, “I’m sure George would be smiling down on us if we used money for more parkland” for Santa Paula’s children.